A sweet, if uneven, tale.



In something of a variant on Andersen’s “Ugly Duckling,” Cuckoo searches for someone who might understand him.

When the adorable Cuckoo hatches, his family members (obviously not cuckoos) say, “Too-too-weet!” But all he says back is “Cuckoo,” which alienates him from the others. So he bravely leaves to find understanding. Pages of fruitless encounters with animals and people saying different things bring the young bird no closer to companionship, so he goes to school to learn others’ languages. Unfortunately, he hasn’t the gift for others’ gab and is stymied in his efforts. In fact, “Cuckoo was exhausted. His brain hurt from all the learning.” He heads to a rooftop to relax, and from his perch he hears someone calling, “Cuckoo!” It turns out that this call doesn’t come from another bird like him but from a toddler’s cuckoo toy. Lo and behold, the toy has just about worn out, and when it breaks, Cuckoo flies through the window to assume its place. With the dedication announcing “Based on a true story. (Sort of),” readers are invited to speculate about the intended meaning behind Cuckoo’s adventure, but this remains elusive. This is not Andersen’s bird finding his own kind, and Cuckoo’s ultimate role as plaything reads like The Velveteen Rabbit subverted. The endearing, digitally rendered art outshines the story.

A sweet, if uneven, tale. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: April 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-16497-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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Hee haw.

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The print version of a knee-slapping cumulative ditty.

In the song, Smith meets a donkey on the road. It is three-legged, and so a “wonky donkey” that, on further examination, has but one eye and so is a “winky wonky donkey” with a taste for country music and therefore a “honky-tonky winky wonky donkey,” and so on to a final characterization as a “spunky hanky-panky cranky stinky-dinky lanky honky-tonky winky wonky donkey.” A free musical recording (of this version, anyway—the author’s website hints at an adults-only version of the song) is available from the publisher and elsewhere online. Even though the book has no included soundtrack, the sly, high-spirited, eye patch–sporting donkey that grins, winks, farts, and clumps its way through the song on a prosthetic metal hoof in Cowley’s informal watercolors supplies comical visual flourishes for the silly wordplay. Look for ready guffaws from young audiences, whether read or sung, though those attuned to disability stereotypes may find themselves wincing instead or as well.

Hee haw. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: May 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-545-26124-1

Page Count: 26

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2018

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Should be packaged with an oxygen supply, as it will incontestably elicit uncontrollable gales of giggles.


Even more alliterative hanky-panky from the creators of The Wonky Donkey (2010).

Operating on the principle (valid, here) that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, Smith and Cowley give their wildly popular Wonky Donkey a daughter—who, being “cute and small,” was a “dinky donkey”; having “beautiful long eyelashes” she was in consequence a “blinky dinky donkey”; and so on…and on…and on until the cumulative chorus sails past silly and ludicrous to irresistibly hysterical: “She was a stinky funky plinky-plonky winky-tinky,” etc. The repeating “Hee Haw!” chorus hardly suggests what any audience’s escalating response will be. In the illustrations the daughter sports her parent’s big, shiny eyes and winsome grin while posing in a multicolored mohawk next to a rustic boombox (“She was a punky blinky”), painting her hooves pink, crossing her rear legs to signal a need to pee (“winky-tinky inky-pinky”), demonstrating her smelliness with the help of a histrionic hummingbird, and finally cozying up to her proud, evidently single parent (there’s no sign of another) for a closing cuddle.

Should be packaged with an oxygen supply, as it will incontestably elicit uncontrollable gales of giggles. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-60083-4

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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